10 years ago today, my best friend died. I wasn’t there. I hadn’t been there for months. I don’t know what time he died or what his last moments were like, but he died on the couch where he had lain for months as cancer slowly took his jaw, his voice, and his life. I never said a proper goodbye.
16 years old at the time, I thought my best friend was my childhood friend and that my schedule was more pressing than Death’s. For months, I peered into the living room where he laid, saw his swollen face, watched silently as he and my mom scribbled notes to each other on the well-worn paper pad. Each time, I retreated back into the parlor to the comfort of the piano. I was too ashamed to talk to him, but I could at least play for him. Or so I thought.
Every morning, my mom would leave early to go visit him. She often asked if any of us siblings wanted to go along. Sometimes my siblings accompanied her, but I rarely did. I relished the hours each day that she was away, knowing that I could skip on my schooling and play more fucking Runescape. She would be gone nearly the entire day, sitting in the chair next to him, reading his thousands and thousands of notes. The notes were his only way to say anything when he had a hole in his throat. I had multiple ways of saying anything and I didn’t. My sister did; she wrote him a goodbye letter. My brother did; he wrote him a goodbye letter. I, the eldest, didn’t. My mom said he understood that it was hard for me. But was it really too hard? No, more of an inconvenience.
On Saturday, April 5, 2008, I ran my usual 3 mile run from my parents’ house to Sunrise Mountain. At the top, I left a small wooden plaque with an American flag sticking out of the hole I had drilled. The plaque said, “4/5/2008 – In Remembrance of All Soldiers Who Died in Iraq.” Today, I cannot remember why I put this display together, but I wish I had spent those hours elsewhere. I didn’t know it at the time, but those hours I spent on that mountain were some of his last on this planet.
The next morning, I left for church at 6:15am. I hadn’t practiced any of my songs for that morning’s services, but I improvised as usual. After the second service, I walked off stage and out into the lobby to catch my friends before they left. Before I could find them, my mom found me. She was crying. “Pop died…” I don’t remember feeling anything. She hugged me, but I knew she needed the hug more than I did. At home, I called my youth group worship leader and said that I might not make it to the 4pm practice because my grandfather was dead and I didn’t have a car. What an inconvenience. Between that moment and the funeral seven days later is all a blank. I know I at least cried at the funeral, but I was at least equally as sad that I couldn’t leave right after to hang out with my childhood friends who had come to comfort me and my family.
It took years for the reality to sink in. The man who had given me his time, his wisdom, and his patience was gone. No more birthday trips fishing at Woods Canyon Lake, no more driving around town in his ’53 Chevy listening to Yakety Yak, no more building tree houses in his backyard, no more freshly-baked cookies on Sunday visits. It was over. On the morning of April 6, 2008, at the age of 64, he was gone forever. And in the end, he received my absence and silence.
I take solace in the fact that if I really think about him for even a minute now, I cry. I’m crying writing this. It gives me hope that the person I was at 16 is obliterated because that person cried for no one. It’s fucking hard to accept my actions and reactions, but I don’t have a choice. I have him in my memories, in photos, in videos, and in my family. A few times a year, he is manifested in my dreams and I talk to him until I wake; when I wake, I thank whatever part of my subconscious mind gave me that dream because it is the only way for me to make new memories with him. I am thankful I ever had the privilege of knowing him.
I miss you, Pop. I’m sorry. I hope I turned out how you hoped I would. Bye for now.
In what is perhaps the most well-timed release ever, one of my favorite podcasts, Stuff Your Mom Never Told You, released an episode two days ago called “How to Deal with Grief.” The episode primarily focuses on the passing of parents, and I could not help but notice the similarities between the passing of the interviewee’s dad and the passing of my grandfather. Both were sick for a while but in relatively good health, and then deteriorated quickly over a 4 month span, eventually dying in states of being that in no way resembled their healthy selves. But she stayed with him until the end, even when she didn’t want to. Since I can’t go back and beat the shit out of 16 year old me, I can only focus on how I move forward.
In the podcast episode, the host mentions a website called SeeYourFolks.com. Essentially, you estimate how often you see each parent and the current age of your parent and then it estimates how many times you will see them before they pass, based on the average lifespan for adult men and adult women in your country. It’s kind of morbid, but it really puts things in perspective that those times are finite.
10 days ago, March 27th, my dad called me and told me his work supervisor was driving him to the hospital in Laveen. In my 26 years of existence, my dad had never gone to the hospital for anything, so, fearing the worst, I immediately left work and prepared myself for the 1.5 hour commute to the hospital in rush hour traffic. Fortunately, by the time I had reached the halfway point, the hospital staff had triaged him and determined that he was not having any life-threatening issues, so I calmed down. However, what turned out to be severe food poisoning could have been something much more serious and this event has really led me to re-evaluate almost every goal (or way of reaching said goal) in my life.
So in May, after spending the next few weeks accumulating all of the data that I will need to evaluate, I will be reviewing some potentially major decisions that will affect the next few years. It might mean heading in new directions and giving up some goals for others, but these are decisions that I have been purposefully avoiding for years, so it’s time for me to grow up and really figure out where I am going and how I will get there. But for today, I will cherish and reflect.